California’s Lieutenant Governor is decidedly less glamorous than the more prominent posts of governor or senator, but the holder of this office has the distinction of being a heartbeat away from the governorship, while earning a $160,000 annual salary. The current election for this post pits San Francisco mayor and tarnished Democratic golden boy Gavin Newsom against lesser-known Republican incumbent Abel Maldonado, who personifies “El /sueño/ Americano”- the Latin version of the American Dream. In an interview with Our Weekly, Maldonado shared his background and future hopes for California (efforts to secure an interview with Mayor Newsom were unsuccessful).
A moderate Republican whose mother is a democrat, his kin reinforced the idea that family came first, followed by the state of California then political party loyalty. Maldonado traces his embrace of the GOP to his youthful exposure to Ronald Reagan, when the former governor/president frequented Santa Barbara County. Maldonado’s background is particularly attractive for GOP strategists eager to expand their influence among Hispanic voters. The son of an immigrant “bracero,” or migrant worker, he famously turned his family’s strawberry patch into a 6,000 acre multi-national agricultural firm before starting a political career in his native Santa Maria as mayor, then moving on to the state assembly. Stressing the idea that education is a fundamental building block of a sound economy, he co-authored AB540, which proposed the provision of state funding for undocumented community college students (the state appellate court ruled that it clashed with federal law and overturned it). Piggy backing upon this, he points to his establishment of a sub committee to foster economic development via the U. C. and Cal State University systems.
Citing his association with Aubry L. Stone, the president and CEO of the California Black Chamber of Commerce and his own business experience, Maldonado stresses his commitment to empowering small and emerging businesses, non-profits and other undeserved concerns within the state economy. In addition, he has implemented a cap on state spending and voluntarily taken a pay cut from his own salary to ease the burden on taxpayers.
In contrast Newsom, the scion of a prominent California family, was exposed to key Democratic power brokers early on through the associations of his father, a court appeals judge and administrator of the vast Getty family trust. He became a successful businessman via the establishment of wineries, restaurants, hotels, and clothing stores before entering into politics. Newsom soon became known for a commitment to progressive causes including environmental issues, same sex-marriages, and alternatives to public assistance for the homeless.
While this activism made him a media darling and helped usher him in as San Francisco mayor in 2003, the next year his political career was rocked when it was revealed he had an extramarital affair with the wife of his close friend and campaign manager Alex Tourk.
Newsom rebounded from this to win re-election in 2007, and plans to reverse the state’s sluggish economy with an increase in capital spending and investment in local businesses in addition to attracting foreign funding. Among his plans to jump start the economy is the nurturing of the “clean-tech” industry, via the development of alternative fuel sources, construction of green buildings, and overall reduction of California’s carbon footprint to make the state more ecologically productive. Newsom has stated that he intends to use the Lt. Governor’s position on the State Lands Commission to facilitate environmentally friendly methods of renewable energy generation including biofuel, geothermal, solar, and wind production.
Because it is such a low profile title, some have questioned whether the state actually needs a Lt. Governor. Assembly Constitutional Amendment 30 proposes that the job be eliminated and its functions be reassigned to the Secretary of State.
The Lt. Governor heads the boards of the California State University and University of California systems and a host of other commissions and councils. The person in this position also heads the Economic Development Commission, a body that both Maldonado and Newsom have pledged to utilize in creating more jobs in California. As president of the State Senate, this “vice” executive also has the deciding vote in case of a tie-breaker, but has been called on to perform this function only twice within the last 30 years.
California’s top two executive positions have been selected in separate elections since 1850, when the decision was made to limit the power within the single office of governor.
Even so, Maldonado, with his Horatio Alger background and fluency in Spanish, will make an appealing campaign partner for aspiring Governor Meg Whitman, whose background as a billionaire and former E-Bay CEO may not exactly make her relatable to the average Californian.
Conversely for Newsom, a win here could serve as a stepping stone to a full governorship and the national exposure he has long sought.